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A Practical Handbook on the Distillation of Alcohol from Farm Products

August 1, 2014 | by

It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific prose available in the public domain. Tonight’s prescription: “Alcoholometry,” a chapter from A Practical Handbook on the Distillation of Alcohol from Farm Products, published in 1907.


David Rijckaert III, Man Sleeping, ca. 1649

Alcoholmetry is the name given to a variety of methods of determining the quantity of absolute alcohol contained in spirituous liquors. It will readily be seen that a quick and accurate method of making such determinations is of the very utmost importance to those who are engaged in the liquor traffic, since the value of spirit depends entirely upon the percentage of alcohol which it contains. When alcoholic liquors consist of simple mixtures of alcohol and water, the test is a simple one, the exact percentage being readily deducible from the specific gravity of the liquor, because to a definite specific gravity belongs a definite content of alcohol; this is obtained either by means of the specific gravity bottle, or of hydrometers of various kinds, specially constructed.

All hydrometers comprise essentially a graduated stem of uniform diameter, a bulb forming a float and a counterpoise or ballast. The hydrometers may either be provided with a scale indicated on the neck or else with weights added to sink the hydrometer to a certain mark. The first instruments are called hydrometers of “constant immersion,” the others, of “variable immersion.”

At the latter end of the last century, a series of arduous experiments were conducted by Sir C. Blagden, at the instance of the British government, with a view to establishing a fixed proportion between the specific gravity of spirituous liquors and the quantity of absolute alcohol contained in them. The result of these experiments, after being carefully verified, led to the construction of a series of tables, reference to which gives at once the percentage of alcohol for any given number of degrees registered by the hydrometer; these tables are invariably sold with the instrument. They are also constructed to show the number of degrees over-or under-proof, corresponding to the hydrometric degrees. Other tables are obtainable which give the specific gravity corresponding to these numbers.

The measurement of the percentage of absolute alcohol in spirituous liquors is almost invariably expressed in volume rather than weight, owing to the fact that such liquors are always sold by volume. Nevertheless, the tables referred to above show the percentage of spirit both by volume and weight. Read More »